Singer Agreements for The Living Room Choir
What follows is a list of guidelines that create safe structure for us to sing and play together. Please read and align yourself with these values before attending Living Room Choir sessions, in order to help us continue to create a safe and healthy atmosphere for our growing singing community.
1. Let our gatherings be about being in service to the work: the music, the community, and a safe place to play
Do your best to let go of the challenges we are facing in our lives when you arrive for our gatherings. This is a time to shake it off and play in a safe space, away from our daily stressors. Know that music can be a powerful shifter of energy. It can touch us deeply and bring emotions to the surface for processing. If you experience “the feels” at any point while singing, know this is very normal, and very common. Please take the time you need to be with that emotion. I encourage you to stay with the group and sing through it, as singing is a healthy way to allow emotions to express and pass through. If you need to leave momentarily, though, honor that need. If you witness someone else having “the feels,” let them process that on their own unless they indicate they may want support or to discuss it. It is vital that we create a safe space for our group to both process, and play, freely.
2. Honor your body first
There are bolsters in the yoga studio for sitting, and chairs in a closet down the hallway (the bathroom is further down the same hallway). You are also welcome to lie down, dance, stretch, etc. Please take care of your bodies and move in the ways that feel right to you. There will be times when I lead physical exercises, light choreography, or body rhythms. Know that these activities are always optional, modified versions are welcome, or you can enjoy by watching.
Similarly, you are welcome to sing whichever part feels right to you. We sit in a circle, grouped low (bass), low-middle (tenor), high-middle (alto), and high (soprano). You may know you have a low voice, sit in bass section, then decide you enjoy the soprano line of a song and want to try it. You are welcome to get up and move to the soprano section for that song. Some of this work is about finding what feels good in your body and in your voice, while listening and blending with the group.
3. Arrive and depart respectfully
Please be on time, allow yourself to land, and be part of the warm-ups. The yoga class before us lets out at 7:30pm, we transition the space quickly, and begin promptly at 7:45. If you arrive late or need to leave early, please be mindful as you enter and leave the space. A lot can be communicated with a simple bow or smile – no need for a verbal announcement or apology. Know that I trust you to take care of yourself; if you need to come late or leave early, please don’t let that stop you from coming. Just slip in and out of the group respectfully.
We have a small number of singers who often arrive a little early to help put the space together. If you arrive and there are no available bolsters or seats, please help yourself to what you need and the singing circle will expand to include you. Afterward, everyone is responsible for returning their bolster or chair neatly to its home, removing trash, etc. The group effort makes it go swiftly.
4. Have compassion for yourself and others
Diverse people gathered together need the utmost respect and care for each other. We come from different backgrounds and different ways of being. Practice compassion, generosity and forgiveness when we sometimes forget to be kind to ourselves or others. Take nothing personally: we don’t know what is really happening for another person so that “look” or “comment” has nothing to do with you as a being or how you are singing.
We have a broad range of ability in the group, which merits acknowledgement. For those who are new to singing, know you belong and that it gets easier. For those who are more experienced, consider yourself a leader by example, not a teacher, and find new things to get curious about in this community-based work. Everyone learns at a different rate, set up personal goals of achievement, please, do not compare yourself to others.
5. Get used to “us” and “we”
How we talk to each other makes all the difference in the world for creating a safe singing community. It is important that our space be safe even for the newest and shyest singers. As such, it is never okay to point out or place value on another member’s singing. If there are parts that need clarifying, please ask me for help using “us” and “we” (for example “I think we need to hear our part again.”) Also, try to give compliments that are not value judgements of someone’s voice. “I really enjoy singing with you!” is a much safer comment than “your voice is so good!” in a space like ours.
While I ask choir members to refrain from correcting one another, there are two musical assistants in the choir, Sara and Deborah, who may give corrections just as I do. Please listen to their feedback just as you would listen to me. They are working closely with me and know the parts (in some cases, they may lead or co-lead with me). There is also a choir member, Andie, who is our choir administrator. She will sometimes take leadership with event planning and is available for many logistical questions you might have.
Sometimes we will assign an “anchor” for a certain part in a song. An anchor is a person whose vocal musicality is such that they can carry a part of a given song solidly enough guide others in their group. This is a named position, meaning that, approaching a concert, I will let you know who the anchor is for a song and when to watch and follow them. We use the term “anchor” instead of “section leader” because the purpose of this role is to allow us to drop deeply into the groove of the song, ensuring that we can all sing together successfully on even a more complex number.
6. Listening is a big part of singing in a group
Some good rules for listening: only sing loud enough that you can still hear the people on either side of you. If you’re unsure of your part, lower your volume and listen more intently for a few moments, then try again. It is very helpful to stand in front of other singers in order to hear them better. Often new singers want to stand in the back, but standing in front will actually help you hear more.
Be aware of others personal space while singing. You may not know a part and want to lean in toward another singer to hear it better. Do so gently and slowly, so as not to startle them and perhaps pull them off their part. Look for eye contact and body language confirmation that they are willing to share the part more closely with you. Don’t not take it personally if they don’t seem available for this; try someone else or wait til a break in the song and ask me to clarify the part for your group.
During rehearsal sessions that lead to concerts, please spend time listening to (and singing along with) the teaching track recordings outside of rehearsal. Having extra exposure to a song during the week will make a big difference. I am working on the technical elements to make these as accessible to you as possible.
7. Ubuntu Singing means flexibility and being in the moment
When we learn or rehearse a song, we are not trying to get it “perfect”. We are trying to get it solid enough to really enjoy ourselves with it, and have a communal experience. Our primary purpose is to create and explore harmony by singing together – harmony of music, body, heart, mind and soul. End product (eg performance) is secondary.
We teach by call-and-response for many reasons. One is that, when music is transferred directly from human to human in a live setting, the music itself is very alive. You have to be fully present for it, and with each other, in a way that we aren’t when we hold sheet music or read off paper. Oral tradition is alive, not stagnant, and songs will change and shift over time. I may learn more of a song than I knew the last time I taught it, or I may teach a different version. The song might evolve over the course of our group playing with it. Ubuntu music is alive, and constantly in motion.
Some songs have pre-arranged arrangements, some we will be working out together, and sometimes arrangements change last minute. Some songs we will perform, others will be just for us. Please be patient and flexible, knowing it’s part of the process and part of the Ubuntu singing practice.
Singer input and song suggestions are welcome but it’s best if you send me an email or talk to me about it outside of rehearsal. My brain gets quite full during rehearsal and I want to give your ideas and suggestions all the consideration I can.